SXSW – What it’s all about and what start up’s that could make a splash

There’s no doubt you have noticed the abundance of web chatter over the last few days about SXSW, but if like me you are based far away from the hype, you might be wondering what it is all about.


SXSW is the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival which was first held in 1987 in Austin, Texas. The idea was to draw attention to the city’s vibrant music scene. despite the city not being among the top American metropolitans it had a very cosmopolitanism population because of the influence of the University of Texas which brought people from all over the world. Austin also had a reputation as a party city.

Whilst the festival started solely as a music festival in more recent years it has morphed into having a strong technology focus as well. In 2007 a totally unknown social media start up called Twitter came to the event. the rest is history. In 2009 it was FourSquare’s turn. With a track record like that there’s no wonder techies the world over watch with gleeful anticipation for the next start up super star when the event kicks off each year.

Industry big players get involved too. This year Google have built a replica of their famous headquaters on the outskirts of Austin named Google village. Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung and many others all are ramping up their presence there this year as well.

Being a music festival by origin the event still attracts huge stars with Hollywood stars such as Leonardo DiCaprioMatthew McConaughey and Jack Black all making appearances in the Texas capital.

But are there any big hopes this year in the technology area? This year the theme appears to be “social discovery” smart technology that moves the user experience from an active “check-in” (like Foursquare) to technology that runs in the background and automatically notifies users when the situation calls for it.

When I originally read about this I thought we were getting closer to relevant deals and discounts being automatically pushed to people depending on their location. Whilst the concept of marketers knowing where you are at any given time does frighten a lot of people, being told that your favourite magazine, which you buy every week any way, is on sale at a discount in a store you are passing, seems like an exciting step forward to me. However most of the start ups that are being highlighted for attention seem to have networking and conferences as their main focus.

Apps like Sonar which operate similarly to Foursquare but uses filters to display to you people with similar interests to you that are in the same proximity.

Glancee mines Facebook and presents to you people close by that have common interests to you. It has a user interface which allows you to initiate chat with them through the service too.

Highlight tracks your location and then notifies you when people you have met are nearby. It stores their details and so I suppose works as a digital way to remember peoples names!

The one that I think is probably the most interesting is Roamz. It works like a kind of backward Foursquare. It tracks where you are and then suggests locations, sites and events that you may like to go to based on your own interests. What I think this does is remove the check in process, which in turn may increases up take by the masses. I still think ultimately though that there needs to be more reward to people for giving up their privacy and this will only come when businesses participate more widely and offer discounts and deals to those people using these services.


Location Based Marketing. Should You Be Using It?

One of my first blog posts was about location based marketing. The concept was fairly new to me and I saw a huge amount of potential because of the explosive growth of smart phones and the state of the world economy meaning that people were on the search for deals all the time. I decided to test two of the most famous applications and began avidly checking in on both Foursquare and Gowalla. But what were my expectations and what was I hoping to get out of this commitment to Geo-locating myself? A few months on I think its time to review my experience.

2011 has been a big you for LBM which is summerised nicely in this infograph

location based marketing 2011

I think the two things that are illustrated by this timeline is the consolidation of location based services as well as the impressive growth of Foursquare. From my own experiences based here in Ireland it became quickly apparent that Foursquare was the only show in town. The check in options available to me on Gowalla were few and far between and I ended up using places that were miles away from me just to try get more out of the service. It didnt take long for me to kick Gowalla to the curb and focus my intentions on Foursquare.

What makes a difference with Foursquare is that when you decide to check in some place, it is usually there. This is the minimum that users will expect if there service is to gain any sort of traction. So I went at it hammer and tong for a few months. Oh I was the mayor of plenty of places, I had badges and accolades stacked as high as the eye could see. I gained the satisfaction of ousting plenty of people and I even went to a few places solely so I could check in there. But after I while I began to think…why? Why bother going to all this effort? Not once in all this time did I benefit from discounted food or drinks or..anything. My mayorship never brought me any preferential treatment and to be honest ousting people never brought that much satisfaction. I will put this last element though down to the fact that in reality I don’t know the majority of my friends on Foursquare. I didnt much fancy using my own name when I initially began this LBS adventure because quiet frankly I didnt want everyone I knew knowing where I was all the time. My previous experience with check ins was through Facebook and whenever I saw someone trumpeting where they were to the masses I just thought it was sad! I needn’t have worried that much though because I quickly discovered that even if I had wanted to involve myself in a geo-tagging love affair with any of my friends…barely any of them used these kind of services because…why should they?!

Some maybe I missed the point of the whole process. Maybe I shouldnt have been so focused on gaining discounts and using my early adopter status to gain preferential treatment. I have found Foursquare useful when on occasion I have checked into a restaurant and found a friendly recommendation waiting for me suggesting something to try. Is this the really purpose of Foursqaure. Goodwill and advice? Admittedly I would value advice from people I knew more and it would be useful to know what my friends had thought of places when I am at them. But really is that enough to convince people to take out their phone from their pockets and go through the check in process? If me as an early (ish) adopter has already got sick of it, what chance was there really to convince higher numbers of the value of Foursquare?

There needs to be a carrot for people to consistently use the service and right now there ain’t no carrot for users in Ireland. There is only one venue within 5kms of where I am now who offer any kind of discount for checking in on Foursquare. It is a pub names O’ Dwyers in Kilmacud. I contacted them to see what kind of response they had to their campaign and the answer was short and to the point. NONE.

So if businesses aren’t seeing any return on offering discounts is there any hope for for increased business participation? I think companies like Foursquare and Geo-deals need to up their efforts in targeting business owners to explain the benefits and offer them advice. No doubt the service will prove more popular in a busy area where consumer decisions might be tipped in favour of a location based on the LBM that they offer.It is also vital for businesses to let people know about checking in. Foursquare signs and details on menus would certainly make a difference.

Like a lot of things here in Ireland I think we are going to have to wait some time for both businesses and consumers to buy into the whole location based marketing concept. 2012 promises to be another big year for the industry so what can America expect to see? Here are some of the big predictions being talked about right now by industry experts

  1. Foursquare hits the 30-million mark. Foursquare is growing at approximately 30,000 users a day, and we expect this to gradually increase during the upcoming year. After announcing its 15 millionth user last December, look for Foursquare to tally 30 million users by the end of 2012.
  2. Facebook will enable location-specific mobile advertising. As Facebook continues to grow revenue ahead of its 2012 IPO, look for the social network to finally turn on location-based advertising within its mobile application. This will enable marketers to deliver ads based on both current location and past check-ins.
  3.  New competitors emerge that automate the check-in process. Consumer growth has proven that users enjoy sharing their location, connecting with nearby friends and earning rewards. The largest headache with services such as Foursquare and Facebook is that users must still manually check in to each location. This creates opportunities in 2012 for innovative start-ups that automatically check users into venues when provided permission.
  4. Groupon Acquires Foursquare. With Groupon still flush with cash, and Foursquare continuing to drive more-and-more merchant transactions, we predict Groupon makes Foursquare an offer it can’t refuse. This would expand Groupon’s merchant toolset and give it access to millions of new consumers through Foursquare’s mobile app.
  5. Marketers embrace “big data” and integrate location-based marketing. As more marketers include location-based marketing in their 2012 campaigns, reporting will become a hot topic. Check-ins provide incredibly valuable data to marketers about what their customers do and when they do it. This will lead savvy marketers to begin integrating their location-based data into their existing marketing platforms, enabling them to learn even more about their customers and incorporate these learnings across all marketing channels.

Get Mobile 2011 Dublin

I am just home from the Get Mobile 2011 conference here in Dublin and I felt compelled to do a summary while it was fresh in my mind.

The stand out phrase for me came in the opening speech by John O’Shea, CEO, Zamano. He said  “Everything that can. Will go Mobile”.

Our course coordinator Theo Lynn tweeted a link this morning to an article about whether Steve Jobs had solved the innovators dilemma. Luckily I had an opportunity to read it over because a strong focus of John’s talk was about disruptive technology and how there are constantly changing winners and losers in business. Nokia was huge ten years ago and now they are hardly a player at all in the mobile phone game. Right now it is Apple but it is very hard to maintain your position.

Mobile Search is different from desktop search. People are looking for things now. 70% of mobile search queries are fulfilled within hours. There are also less search results on a page so if you are not up in the top 4 or 5 results you have no hope.

Website need to be optimized for mobile viewing. We have all heard that before. But in an area where an estimated $2 Billion is spent on mobile advertising, only 15% of companies surveyed had budgeted to have their websites optimized for mobile. What is the point of advertising on mobile if when they get there, your site is not user friendly?

Mobile Marketing. iphone, apple, android, google

John spoke about retail 2.0 where consumers could be sent location specific offers from supermarkets based on their previous buying preferences. Brands will bid for the right to send these ads much like the Google Adwords system works now. One for the future but fascinating none the less!

Mobile payments right now are taking two forms. Over the network payment, where the mobile network providers are involved. However there seems to be little cooperation between the neccesary parties right now and progress is very slow.

The other option, which features in Japan a lot, is contact-less transfers. This makes use of Near Field Technology and removes the mobile networks from the equation. Billions of dollars of transactions could be made each year on mobile handsets, with the mobile companies having no participation at all.

The next speaker was Joe Drumgoole from Feedhenry. Joe’s company create apps and there was a bit of controversy when Joe told us that the Windows 7 phone was awful and really hard for Apps to be developed for. Seeing as Microsoft was sponsoring the conference this didn’t go down to well!!

The emergence of the app industry was again pioneered by Apple. Where as before the biggest challenge was trying to work with all the networks and the limited revenue that could be earned (4%) from app. Apple made the whole process easier and their model of 30% revenue has been a huge incentive.

What you need for a succesful App is

  1. GPS
  2. An optical System
  3. PIM (personal internal managment)
  4. Touch screen (this is important as mobile is more about visual than writing)
  5. Internet

If an App isn’t making use of the above it probably could function better as a web page.

The future area of Apps are

  1. Games
  2. Social networks
  3. Personal productivity
  4. Mobile work force
  5. Mobile business

The best example of a well made App is the Facebook. Its one failing is it does not allow advertisers to use it to create ads, or monitor their existing ads.

The challenges to App creaters are

  1. User interaction design
  2. Small screens
  3. To maximize device capability
  4. To use Cloud interfaces
  5. Device resolutions and dimensions
  6. Standards (HTML 5 is a collection of standards which isn’t totally polished but is the future)

The talk that I was most interested in was by Brendan from Geodelic. He decided to get into the mobile industry after realizing how much more attached he was to his mobile phone than his wallet, after losing them both. He knew then that mobiles were so integral to our lives that they were the future.

In 2007 we saw the emergence of the group discount phenomenon. Many business owners though were not seeing repeat business and ultimately were not making any money from the sales they pulled in from the likes of Group on. The huge margins that discount deal companies demand are necessarily because of the massive sales forces they need in order to make their process work.

G-commerce is the combination of E-commerce and traditional bricks and mortar businesses. By allowing businesses to attract customers to their stores with deals while they are in the area, they automate the group discount process and there is far more potential to actually make money. They can target people at off peak hours and at more specific times, rather than never knowing when discount coupons will be redeemed.

Geodelic have chosen Dublin as a pilot for Geodeals. Where the likes of Google places and FourSquare will be serious competition, they are hoping to leverage mobile phone operators as their advantage. This will provide them with a ready made consumer base.

Its an area that definitely interests me so I will be looking into it more and will keep you updated.


Foursquare – Miles Better

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Gowalla is useless. I am sure that is probably has great functionality in America or other locations but as I sit here now looking at it, the closet available “spot” to me is a park nearly two kilometers away. Anyone following me probably thinks that I enjoy walks and fresh air because I have checked in there 4 times just to try interact with the app in some way.

With Foursquare once you open the App there is a huge amount of registered locations and businesses available to check in at. This is encouraging because when you find exactly where you are it gives you a little boost. Having said that I have no doubt the novelty will wear off soon.

With Gowalla once you choose from the tiny list of available options, usually no where near you actually are, all you do is register that youre there….

It seems quiet keen on you registering anyone else you are with and there is an option to leave a highlight or a suggestion. But short of that there doesnt seem to be a whole lot going on. You are are not encouraged by being granted points or mayorships let alone a discounts or special offers. It almost seems more like a poor tourist app.

I will reluctantly continue on using it for the time being. But unless I find it more engaging I’m giving it the boot! If any one has any other location based apps I would be delighted to try them out.

Foursquare is a different story. They way it is laid out is easy to use. As I already mentioned, their location numbers are great. But I have yet to see much business participation. There is an explore option which tells me about some local deals which I am going to try investigate when I get a chance. And you can be sure once I become the mayor of some place I am going to talk to the manager and see if if they have any intention of rewarding me!

To date I have 36 check ins and 7 badges!

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